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Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian Hardcover – June 30, 2013
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“Letters and Life is nothing less than an invaluable gift to the body of Christ. Let no serious believer who aspires to serious writing neglect to read it and to be encouraged, instructed, and blessed by it. A wise, wonderful, and desperately needed primer on what it means to be a genuine Christian writer and artist.”
—Eric Metaxas, New York Times best-selling author, Miracles and Bonhoeffer
“Like all great storytellers, Bret Lott is a bridge builder: his characters cross into our lives and help us know ourselves more truly. In this lively collection of essays, Lott is determined to bridge another gap—the sometimes uneasy tension between the world of literary fiction and the broader community of faith. Along the way, he demonstrates that reading literature, far from being an elitist indulgence, is at once deeply pleasurable and a transformative spiritual experience.”
—Gregory Wolfe, editor, Image; author, Beauty Will Save the World
“Bret Lott has dared to write an impossible book—a serious and candid set of meditations on what it means to be a Christian writer living in a secular society that neither respects nor even understands his faith. I can hardly imagine a more difficult topic or a more necessary one. Letters and Life has the courage to explore a question at the heart of contemporary culture: How do we reconcile the spirit and the imagination?”
—Dana Gioia, poet; former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts
“Bret Lott is one of America’s finest writers and editors; this book reveals him to be one of our greatest mentors to writers of faith, as well. Letters and Life brims with wisdom and advice to all who bear the call toward an authentic journey of a writer. It is a gift for all readers who desire to know more about the creative process and to infuse their creativity into their lives.”
—Makoto Fujimura, Founder, International Arts Movement and Fujimura Institute; artist; author
About the Author
Bret Lott (MFA, University of Massachusetts) is the New York Times best-selling author of more than a dozen books including Jewel, an Oprah Book Club selection. From 1986 to 2004 he was writer-in-residence and professor of English at the College of Charleston, leaving to take the position of editor and director of the journal The Southern Review at Louisiana State University. In 2007, he returned to the College of Charleston, where he currently teaches. He serves as nonfiction editor of Crazyhorse, and is a member of the National Council on the Arts.
More About the Author
Born in Los Angeles, he received his BA in English from Cal State Long Beach in 1981, and his MFA in fiction from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 1984, where he studied under James Baldwin. From 1986 to 2004 he was writer-in-residence and professor of English at The College of Charleston, leaving to take the position of editor and director of the journal The Southern Review at Louisiana State University. Three years later, in the fall of 2007, he returned to The College of Charleston and the job he most loves: teaching.
His honors include being named Fulbright Senior American Scholar and writer-in-residence to Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, Israel; speaking on Flannery O'Connor at The White House; and having served as a member of the National Council on the Arts from 2006 to 2012. Currently he is nonfiction editor of the journal Crazyhorse. He and his wife, Melanie, live in Hanahan, South Carolina.
Top Customer Reviews
The first five essays cover topics ranging from a discussion of literary fiction to thoughts on precision in writing to an essay on Flannery O'Connor. My favorite was the discussion of precision in writing. As Lott points out, it's a difficult concept to articulate, but I found by the end I had a better grasp of what it means to write with precision. I particularly enjoyed his example of precise writing in the Bible, Judges 3:12-26, in which Ehud kills Eglon, king of Moab. I had read the passage before but completely missed the reference to Eglon's bowels letting loose after Ehud stuck his sword through his belly. The smell made the guards think that Eglon was relieving himself and therefore didn't disturb him and Ehud got away. It's a small detail, but it makes the picture of the assassination very real.
The essay on Flannery O'Connor is also a favorite. Using her life and words as an illustration, Lott discusses the importance of the story more than the prestige of the author. Too often, writers crave fame and their desire to tell a story becomes secondary.
The final section is about Lott's life. He begins to tell the story after the death of his father. Losing a father is never easy. It makes you reflect on life: what was and will never be again.
I recommend this book for Christian writers, but it also provides thought provoking concepts for anyone who hopes to write meaningful fiction.
I reviewed this book for Crossway.
But here is what Letters & Life taught me. I need to write. Not because I'm any good at writing. But because of the message I know about Jesus, and how God has equipped me to share it through words on paper and through the stories of my life. My stories matter, and so do yours. We should all be sharing our stories and lives with others. The author, Bret Lott, says something early on in the book that was really profound to me. He said, "What I continue to learn through my life as a writer-through all those rejections and successes, past, present, and yet to come-is that the pain I want established is not to succeed in the world's terms but in God's terms. The loving God who loves us on his term, and his only" (32).
So while this isn't a typical review of a book that talks about why the book was great or why it was bad, this review simply is an expression of the motivation I found from this book and I want to encourage you to read it and feel the same. Our loving God can use us, and while the world will reject my writing at times, God is using it in His terms. Check out Letters and Life. I promise it will make you want to write more.
Lott neatly divides the book into five chapters on letters and one (long) chapter on life. The last section while long is broken up into shorter sections/headings. He weaves the story of his father's death through this section. It's very personal and it was my favorite chapters of the book. I enjoyed part one but sometimes the details dragged (although the ending chapter on Flannery was superb). The second section was paced quicker and was intensely personal. It resonated with me more deeply.
I love that Brett doesn't write in the Christian market. He writes from a Christian worldview and strives to write with excellence. We need more Bret Lott's. We need more writers working to do art well instead of trying to fit into a prefabricated Christian market. If you're an aspiring writing, Lott will teach and delight; he will show and tell. Read and learn.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian free from Crossway. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
Originally reviewed at Grace for Sinners
To my near total surprise when I began reading Lott, I discovered that he is a Christian. Two things should be noted. He is not a Christian writer of the sort who whips out stories of Amish looking folks falling in love while sitting in a carriage on the way to a little white rural church. Nor is the writer who we discover is on the church rolls somewhere and who shows up with some regularity to worship service, nods in agreement to the sermon, keeps a Bible on his writing desk, and yet pursues stories evidencing little or nothing of the faith.
My first Bret Lott read was Ancient Highway. A fourth of the way through the story, I thought it was okay. Halfway, I thought is was fairly good. About three-fourths of the way, I was stunned. I was convinced then (about 3 years ago) that the book was outstanding in the way the story unfolded. And, even though the message was overtly Christian with a "come to Jesus" experience at the end, it was redemptive with strong Christian undertones and some overt Christian details.
I was convinced by reading Ancient Highway that Bret Lott knew something about how to write, not Christian fiction, but fiction as a Christian. (By the way, I am not opposed to Christian fiction as I am referring to it.)
My next Lott book was A Song I Knew By Heart, which is a retelling of the Book of Ruth set in modern times (and largely in the South).Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I have never read Lott's fiction but I enjoyed this look at the life of a writer. it I inspired me to add his fiction to the never-ending TBR pile and perhaps even to write more in... Read morePublished 18 months ago by Cynthia
I would recommend this book for any writer, Christian or not, because of the bold but humble clarity and intelligence Bret Lott brings to the subject of writing. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Sophfronia Scott
Ok but too personal. Too religious for my liking. Maybe Ok for a minister to read. Can't say more. Thanks!!Published 22 months ago by Olwen J
Bret Lott is a writer, he's a creative writer, and he's a creative Christian writer. Although he separates the book into essays about writing and an autobiographical section about... Read morePublished on December 8, 2013 by David Gunner Gundersen
Bret Lott, Letters and Life: on being a writer, on being a Christian
This delightfully readable little tome is more than a tutorial on writing. Read more
This book was a great read. I was drawn into the struggle of life and writing. This is great encouragement for a writer,
David Young'... Read more
In the novella-length essay that closes Letters and Life: On Being A Writer, On Being A Christian (Crossway, 2012), author Bret Lott took me back to the day my mom died, and the... Read morePublished on August 15, 2013 by Michelle Van Loon
My grandson bought a used copy of "Jewel" at a yard sale for me last month. I seldom read fiction but since it was an Oprah pick, I began reading it and was riveted from the... Read morePublished on August 9, 2013 by V. L. Wilson